Archive for April, 2010

Brilliant Brown

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Given the circumstances, it had to be good, and my good it was good. At times it was superb.

He attacked just enough, and didn’t let Cameron off the hook on Inheritance or Corporation Tax, but where he was really excellent was on on values. He was superb on childcare (Babs I’ve been away, and will come back to you but I’m struggling at the moment with exhaustion so it’s not going to be tonight!) and the values behind the stats and has – I think – done plenty to undo the damage of yesterdays mistake.

Clegg wasn’t as good as he has been – or maybe he was as good as he had been, but hadn’t finessed his rhetorical flourishes enough to make them seem unscripted a third time.

Cameron was better than he has been, but seemed to get very cross when he was essentially exposed as a Tory.

I declare this a much needed win for Gordon. It was him at his very best.

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What Are (and What Should Be) Our Bottom lines?

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

There’s quite a lot of commentary at the moment on Twitter and the blogs bout Nick Clegg’s demands for a hung parliament. While some of the critisism is apt, I tweeted some days ago, and still feel, that at the moment, any and all criticism of Clegg – especially by anyone connected with Labour or the Tories – is simply counter-productive. It feeds his message of “same old politics” too easily, and the Tory press are blurring the lines so much already that even valid criticism seems like carping.

I also think that some of the lines don’t quite make sense. True, it’s not for Clegg to choose the Labour leader, but it may be for Labour to choose between being led by Brown or governed by Cameron. I believe even Gordon knows which is the preferable choice.

So let’s assume Clegg gets to play kingmaker – or even crown himself with a Labour cabinet. What are the conditions Labour should put on such an alliance?

In the debates, both Clegg and Cable have attacked Tax Credits and their manifesto proposes getting rid completely of the Child Trust Fund. These must be a vital line in the sand. These are essential policies to continue a fair redistribution. This is a key Labour principle, and we must fight for it.

Secondly, no anti-union laws, including increasingly draconian laws to stop people working collectively and politically. Unite and Ashcroft are not the same, and union members already jump through enough hoops donating money through their union – a signal of thier political belief in collective action. A good Labour person in the DTI and protecting this area at the Treasury will be hugely important.

Finally, agreement on a referendum on voting reform must include an AV or AV+ as well as FPtP and STV options. Each party (and individuals within the parties) must be free to campaign in the referendum as they see fit.

I think these measures would be essential to assuaging Labour concerns, but shouldn’t be too bitter a pill for the Lib Dems to swallow. If Labour are seen as giving up something as substantial as their leader, the Lib Dems will also have to show willing to be coalition players. I don’t think these measures which protect the vulnerable should be too hard to take.

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Compass Loses Direction

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

I’ve been a member of Compass since it was founded. I think it usually has interesting things to say, but is all too often swayed by populism and enjoys too well it’s stance of defiant leftism, without properly backing it up.

I was balloted today by Compass on whether they should support an anti-Tory tactical vote. I voted no. Not because I have a problem with people in Tory/LD marginals voting tactically, but because I don’t think any organisation that purports to be of the left – and indeed merged with the largely union supported Catalyst – should be supporting the anti-union Lib Dems.

The challenge for the left should not be just how to stop the Tories, but how to make future progressivismwork, and I can’t see that working without the Unions. Not in a way that protects the most vulnerable. This ballot is a distraction from the more complex work of trying to build a progressive choice that does enshrine union rights while taking on board the best of what the Lib Dems have to offer.

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The Nasty Party Shows Their Electoral Incompetence

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Why are the Tories going so dog whistle with their latest poster?

I can’t believe they are feeling the need to shore up their core vote, nor that this would win over waverers. It’s not a middle ground message.

People aren’t angry with people on benefits – they’re angy with people on bonuses. If this is an electoral ploy, it’s a terrible one. Are the Tories just now capable of getting through an election campaign without swerving right?

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Labour Must Remember That It’s Roots Go Beyond 1992 If We Are To Win Again

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

In 1992 the Labour Party lost an election we had expected to win. This was over  half my lifetime ago, and the repercussions are still being felt even now.

“New Labour” can be an amorphous phrase, and everyone who uses it does so with their own, very different, definition in mind, so I’ll try to expand on what I mean when I say “New Labour” and why I know that the time has come (and is overdue) to move beyond it.

In 1992, when we lost the election, we didn’t lose because we were too confident (the Sheffield rally analysis) but because the public didn’t share our confidence. They didn’t think we could be trusted to keep the best of what had come out of the entrepreneurial boom in the 1980s and they didn’t trust us not to lose our nerve against what were seen as over-demanding unions. 1992 was also only just post-Cold War, and no one had really worked out what that meant yet. Certainly the majority were still wedded to Cold War ideas on national security, and Labour – with our anti-Trident stance (and remember that there was at the 1992 election a Bush in the White house whose reelection was expected) was seen as naive and damaging to our relationship with our strongest ally.

New Labour was a sensible reaction to the 1992 loss (apart from calling it “New” Labour – one of the worst and most short-sighted branding decisions in history). The proponents of New Labour asked the party to have a conversation, and make a choice based on the grown up electoral understanding that the majority of voters in the UK did not agree with some of our flagship policies even if they did agree with our general policy gist. It was time to examine what we were willing to sacrifice in order to be elected to do the good that we could. New Labour was about an abandonment of outdated dogma, and an understanding that our attitude to this dogma defines us just as much as our actions.

So the party gave up it’s historical commitment to renationalisation and opposition to Trident in to elect a party that would bring in a minimum wage and would rebuild and protect public services. That they did so at a time where the Conservative Government did its utmost to lose the election has made analysis of the 1997 victory harder and  less clear cut, but certainly the number of seats that Labour won in the South East must be a strong indicator that this strategy worked and that Labour had been seen to change enough for people to give them a chance. Crucially though, Labour didn’t lose it’s own vote either, and had promises for the whole alliance of middle class Fabiansocialists, unions and the working class that has been the make up of the Labour party since it’s birth just over 100 years ago.

Labour’s first term really delivered. The New Deal, the minimum wage, child tax credits, statutory four weeks holiday pay, banning handguns and landmines, starting the ball rolling on dropping Third World debt and gay equalities legislation; there was something in Labour’s first term for everyone. Of course there were complaints that it wasn’t enough – there always will be – but the fact is Labour did all this, and pumped money into our ailing public services, starting the turn around that we enjoy today- while convincing the public that  of its case in doing so. So to my mind the 1997 – 2001 Government will go down in history as the most radical and reforming government since Attlee.

It didn’t sound like it though. Labour talked tough, and Tony Blair led from the right, continuing to prefer to pick his fights with the left of the party. PPP/PFI were anathema to the more traditional left who saw these funding models as undermining the role of the state, and instead of making the argument that the private sector was being used to augment the public sector – and continue the fight for a strong government role – Blair continued to use these fights to define himself and the Labour leadership long after it was necessary to redefine Labour in the public imagination. A phrase I heard often in those times was “I’d rather have a leader who talks right and acts left than the other way round”. While I agree that is preferable to the Cameron’s attempt a progressive Toryism that we are seeing now, it was actually – in the same way that our failure to restore full regulation to the banking sector was doing for the economy – storing up trouble for the future.

If we don’t make an argument we’ll never win an argument. The argument for better redistribution was never made while the actions were being taken. It was all “talk right and act left” , which was OK in the years of plenty, but has set us up for a bad fall in the leaner years. We don’t have the foundations that we could have been building during that time. We don’t have a general understanding of what Socialism can be and can achieve when it states it’s case proudly.

Labour’s second term was ruined by September 11th and the reaction of the Blair government. I’m not going to rehash all the arguments over Iraq, that’s a long post for another day, suffice it to say I thought it was a mistake before we went in and I know it was now. The arguments about the international fall out from Iraq have been endlessly rehearsed by better writers than me, more knowledgeable on international matters than me. But, here I am interested in the effect the war and the various civil liberties issues that have also arisen out of the ashes of September 11th  had on the Labour Party.

Essentially it’s been devastating to our coalition. The 1992 based fear that Labour would not be seen as able to as an ally to a Republican US Government (and apparently advice from Clinton) led to Blair backing Bush to the hilt. Unlike many who were against the war, I don’t doubt that Blair thought it was the right thing to do, but I think this 1992 fear played into it, and into the overly macho stance on issues like 42 day detention, curtailing of protest, ID cards and other civil liberties issues. Now don’t get me wrong, Labour has always had an authoritarian streak, but that was usually tempered by the liberal side of the party. However, after September 11th, it seemed that the Labour leadership took their most tried and tested tactic – arguing with the left of their own parties, and moved on from issues of funding and the boundaries of the public and private sectors and changed this to a supposed populism over issues of counter-terrorism. This lost huge swaths of the party that had fought so many civil rights issues in the 80s and joined the Labour Party over these issues in the first place. The coalition started to crumble as members despaired over a step too far. Those who were disquieted over the funding models were viscerally disgusted over civil rights issues, and weren’t willing to stay to fight for what remained good (and I believe that so much of what we have done – a vast majority is good). While I have my personal issues with those who have abandoned the party in this way, politically I realise that the coalition is essential to maintaining a vibrant, electable Labour Party.

I think the Lib Dem bounce shows what I have been arguing for a while. That the Labour Party doesn’t have to be authoritarian on these issues. It’s another clear sign that we’re not in 1992 anymore Toto. It’s a sign that if Labour is to win back the voters it needs, it is going to have to win bank it’s whole coalition, which means understanding the success the Lib Dem have had is neither in spite nor because of it’s liberal policies on crime and drugs. It’s because people don’t think those policies are enough of an issue to be a deciding factor in their votes. We don’t need to over-compensate anymore,and we shouldn’t because it is damaging our electoral chances with all those who once voted for us. It’s time to once again be the party of the Freedom of Information Act and the Human Rights Act, while retaining what separates us from the Lib Dems, and continuing to be the party of workers rights and Child Tax Credits.

New Labour had it’s time and place. But it’s current adherents have taken what was once a smart electoral strategy and in an Orwellian twist  turned it into a dogma of their own. Refusing to understand or acknowledge the passing of New Labour’s usefulness will only result in the continued tarnishing of a legacy I want to continue to be proud of. It’s time for a new conversation and quickly so people can see we have got the message. So no more championing our – clearly not very New Labour manifesto – as New Labour. Labour must make the argument and the policy now for a coherent Left of Centre party for all the coalition or risk it failing for generations.

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Is Cameron Really Just a Bit Lazy? Top Five Ways Dave Messed Up Last Night

Friday, April 16th, 2010

Five: Before the debate began, there was much noise from Tories about how good Cameron was going to be and very little expectation management. That set the bar far too high for Cameron. Even if his performance had been superb, it would only have been “as expected”.

Four: Not an easy one this, but he should have looked more rested. He looked tired and worn out. As his offer is – at least in part – about being “the future”, he needs to be able to contrast his energy with Brown’s lack. He failed to do this.

Three: He got his facts wrong totally unnecessarily. There wasn’t a need to talk about the cars at that point and if he is challenged on funding specifics – and he must have known he would be, it’s the drum Labour’s been banging for a while – he should have come up with something better. 

 Two: He looked by turns bored, frustrated and angry. He looked at times like he was holding in a tantrum. Iain Dale discusses here that the calm may have been a deliberate attempt not to seem like a bully. I think that may well be true, but it looked weird and unnatural. He came across as both fake and disinterested.

One: “I was in Plymouth recently, and a 40-year-old black man made the point to me. He said, “I came here when I was six, I’ve served in the Royal Navy for 30 years. I’m incredibly proud of my country. But I’m so ashamed that we’ve had this out-of-control system with people abusing it so badly”".First of course this quote begs the question – was this man 10 when he joined the Navy?

But more tellingly is the attitude behind the quote. A nasty combination of “some of my best friends are black” with “it can’t be racist if black people are saying it”. It positively reeks of Same Old Tories. It’s a huge mistake as consciously or subconsciously it will have been picked up by floating voters keen to believe in progressive Tories. It’s classic Thatcherism – turning communities against each other to achieve political aims far removed from what those communities were fighting to achieve in the first place.

More than anything it’s very, very lazy. It’s intellectually lazy to believe that black people can’t be racist, and so to conjure a mythical example as a buffer when discussing immigration. The fact that Cameron clearly hadn’t done a proper amount of prep – and you do get the feeling he likes to wing it – and his not bothering either to better control his emotions or to better express them also shows a certain contempt for the process. He needs to be really, really careful not to show this. Contempt for the process is easily translatable into a belief that he believe in his “right” to rule. With his heritage and his party’s background, that kind of lazy arrogance could do him a lot of damage in the eyes of an electorate who clearly haven’t made up thier minds.

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The Expectation Game

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

While that was a rather good general debate, I wish it had done what it was supposed to and focused more on domestic policy. We have the foreign affairs and economic debates still to come. Where were the questions on housing, energy security, human rights and civil liberties and transport? When will we get them if not in the Domestic debate?

I’m going to call this one a tie between Clegg and Brown. Clegg had the easier job but performed it with gusto – I might even remember who he is next time he’s on telly (equating the unions with Billionaire businessmen will get you remembered by me). Brown defied the very low expectations on him and performed solidly, raising a few laughs and making some excellent points both on Labour promises and the differences between us and the Conservatives. 

But why the hell have the Tories been talking Cameron’s chances up all week? He simply couldn’t have achieved the expectation put on him even if he had shown up! As it was he looked tired and weary, unnerved and his stories all seemed a bit fake and a little 70s in their “some of my best friends are 40 year old black men” attitude to diversity. A terribly lacklustre performance, which could have been better managed by his team if they hadn’t put such a premium on how he was going to wipe the floor with Brown on the night.

Finally the bit at the end with the handshakes looked very odd. GB naturally went straight into it and it looked fine, Clegg looked like he was going to follow suit, and Cameron grabbed him back. Clegg wants to watch otu for that – just for a moment, he really looked like Cameron’s junior.

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I Wish It Weren’t True

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

Today, the Climate Scientists at the Heart of the UEA controversy have been cleared by a second report into their conduct. They were pretty much exonerated. This won’t stop the loonies from using this “scandal” as evidence of a climate conspiracy forever more.

Look, I wish Climate Change weren’t happening. I love 21st Century living. I love my Wii and my X Box, My Sky Plus and my big telly and wish I didn’t have to constantly look forward to save energy on these (we’ve opted for a standby Saver which seems to work pretty well, though the PS3 doesn’t seem to like it much). I love to travel and I would love to do more of it – going further afield, but we currently restrict ourselves to flying only every 4-5 years. 

So I’d love to be wrong on climate change. But I’m not. We are going to slow cook our planet unless we change course, and we are doing so, so I can leave my games console on after shooting imaginary bad guys and fly to the Maldives sometime before they submerge.

Even if I were wrong – and I can’t reiterate strongly enough that I am not – we are going to run out of oil, gas and coal and we are already running out of these at a rate of knots. So whether we do it now and firmly establish ourselves in an emerging market, or wait until the fossil fuels run out are we are priced out and try to join an already crowded industry seems to me to be the only choice. Now I’m not an economist, but it seems to me that’s pretty much a no-brainer.

So even if I’m wrong about global warming (I’m not) my solution is still the right course of action for our country’s prosperity.

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The Estates Giveaway – and How to Campaign on it

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Poster idea:

If David Cameron Wins The Election People Who Live on This Estate Will Get a Massive Tax Giveaway

This Estate Will Get Nothing

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Don’t Ignore the Subtext

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

So the great ignored then. Are you one of them? Am I? How can we tell? Do we get a membership card? Discount points at Morrison’s?

Or is this in fact another worthless phrase – like “silent majority” that helps conservative politicians to spread the myth that most people in the country are conservative in bent (clue – two of the three major parties are more progressive than you, and combined get at least  around 50% of polling numbers)  and that there fore you can implement harsh right wing policies at their behest. Of course you can’t prove that’s what’s wanted – they are silent/ignored after all. But your well paid columnists in the majority of say it over and over again (Littlejohn, Clarkson, Liddle, Johnsons Mel and Boris – I’m looking at you) and so it become received wisdom without ever actually being wise.

So of course to oppose the changes that everyone wants puts you against the great ignored. You are an elite. You are an elite because you think work should pay more and accident of birth should pay less. Because you think that education should be open to the masses, because you believe we achieve more together than we do alone. Get back in your box you elitist.

Politicians of all hues have every right to try and sell themselves and their policies to us, but to claim a mandate for a party before an election is a dangerous and cynical game. And to disenfranchise people in the name of a majority you have invented even more so.

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